Don't keep your rod at the River
I travel occasionally, around the Pacific Northwest, to gather material for some article I’m writing. The articles I write about business and industry are often published in journals and magazines that publish that sort of thing because I have a reputation for being accurate and precise in every detail. Even about the unusual and bizarre. It’s important to have that kind of reputation.
I also write articles about fishing but none of them are ever published. “Too unbelievable,” some Editors say, but I can’t help that. Good articles, even about business and industry, are unbelievable to some people. My fishing stories are still for sale.
In fact, I just got home from a long circuitous trip through three states. Much to my delight, my dear spouse of many years (my first wife, I call her) had agreed to go along. It was a busy trip of business meetings, plant tours and photo sessions with complex machinery and business executives in shirt sleeves. We were both worn out and ready for some relaxation long before it was over. It was a business trip that needed a fish story ending.
By luck, the return leg brought us through the high country of Eastern Oregon, past one of my favorite fly fishing streams.
“Say, honey, why don’t we just stop here and do a little fly fishing on the way home?” She picked the reason that was the easiest to overcome.
“Because you don’t have any gear. No fly rod, no waders, no vest, no nothing. This is a business trip, remember?” She was right of course. It had been a long trip and when she agreed to go along I had unloaded my fishing gear to make room for the extra baggage (not referring to her, of course). True, I had no fishing gear, in the car, that is. But I was not altogether without resources.
You see, I fished this self-same stream just last summer with a nice three-piece Tonkin cane and I had left it there. I was not completely without gear of my own. There was a floppy old Bushwacker in the trunk with a couple or three beat-up flies in the band. What more could a guy need for a couple of hours on the water?
Last year’s fly rod was still on the river and I was pretty sure where to find it. I knew it wouldn’t be just where I last saw it, but I had a good idea it wouldn’t be too far.
It was a late summer day, the last time I saw that feather-weight bamboo rod, now just almost a year ago. I’d fished a mile or so of river and had a couple of nice rainbows in the bag. But I knew the granddaddy trout of all would be lurking in that big hole just down from where my rig was parked. It was getting dark but I pressed on just to cast a time or two to the monster fish I knew was there.
After working the big hold thoroughly from head to tail, I paused for a little drink. I always carry a little silver flask to guard against dehydration on a hot summer afternoon. It’s hard to believe a person can get dehydrated while fishing a fast flowing river of water, but it could happen. A little sip now and then is a great form of prevention. Lemonade, of course.
Now, I never park my pole when the line is in the water and my fly is bobbing down over a little riffle in the middle of a big hole like some common bait fisherman do. Never, never, never. But I’d covered every inch of that hole and there was an evening chill and well, just one little sip.
My bamboo rod laying on the ground between my feet, I stood with hip flask in one hand, cap in the other, watching a tiny Adams bob its way over deep green water. A perfect time for a little sip before pulling up for home.
Disbelief caused me to hesitate when I saw my tiny fly disappear from the face of the earth (river, that is) in the midst of a riseform that looked more like an underwater explosion. I tossed my silver flask into the brush as line, rod and reel looked to be launched like a rocket, headed for the deep run through that big hole. Something big, bad and mean had grabbed my tiny fly, and how wanted the whole outfit.
I lurched to make a desperate grab and in midair I caught the handle of my flying fly rod. But my forward motion carried me one step beyond the bank to an under-water moss-covered rock that was like standing on a well-greased beach ball.
My grip on the rod lasted only long enough to sense the bulldozer-like strength of the fish on the other end. The granddaddy of them all, no doubt. But my wading shoes found no grip on the mossy boulder and the icy water closed in over my head. (I hate it when that happens.) Instead of gripping a fine bamboo fly rod, about to play out a trophy trout, I found myself frantically groping for terra-firma. The last I saw was the butt of my rod, reel attached, cutting a wake over the riffles downstream from that monster hole. Too wet, too cold and it being too near dark, there was nothing to do but drip dry in the car on the way home.
So that’s how I knew there would be a pole on the river somewhere and not having a full complement of fishing gear along on a business trip was no reason not to stop to fish awhile. Besides I had a good idea where the rod would hang up.
Disregarding my bride’s protests, I parked the car just above a huge collection of driftwood a few hundred yards down river from the monster hole. This mat of logs and trees spanned the river like some natural bridge and it was here I knew old granddaddy would tangle and break off for sure.
I dropped my suit coat in the back seat and unloaded two-weeks worth of luggage and souvenirs to find my old floppy hat. With white shirt sleeves rolled up and necktie over my shoulder, I mounted the drift in search of a fly rod that had been there for a year.
“You’ll never find it.” Advice from the car is always ignored but I do wish she’d been right.
In not five minutes, I spotted a bamboo fly rod tangled in the branches on the upstream side, right over the main current, just where I thought it would be. A few limbs and twigs had drifted in on top but I soon worked it free. The varnish was beginning to crackle and some of the windings were frayed. But the rod was intact and the reel still turned.
I began to crank in the line, most of which that old fish had spooled out. You never saw a fisherman more pleased with himself having recovered a fine, valuable fly rod after all this time.
I reeled in line to the middle of the taper when things come tight. Without a thought, I gave a little jerk, thinking I could snap the tippet free from whatever held me fast. What I felt on the other end of the line was a mystery, indeed. It was not a rock. Nor was it a solid log. I’ve hooked and landed dozens of big wild trout, and I knew what I felt, but my mind would not believe what I knew.
The rod in my hand went limp for a second and then line began to strip as I saw I was still hooked fast to that old granddaddy trout. Leaving a wake behind like a surfacing sub, old Granddaddy Trout headed back up the river to hide in his former big hole. Instinctively I palmed the open spool to apply the brakes and was that a mistake.
When the line came tight and the strain began to bend the bamboo down, Granddaddy Trout jerked me headlong off the logs and into cold icy water. I hate that familiar feeling. I’m not a very good swimmer. Indeed, I’m a lousy swimmer. The truth is, I can’ swim a stroke. At least having lost my pole for the second time, I had both hands free to try.
It was some time before the current carried me under the log drift and out the other side. I sputtered and spit as I waded to shore at the next riffle.
On the long trip home, me quietly fuming over being soaked a second time, my dear wife kept me company by talking about the places we’d been and articles about business and industry I had yet to write.
But bless her heart, she didn’t say a thing about fishing.